Having Our Say
What: Stage drama
Where: Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass St., Hawks mainstage
When: Through Feb. 9. Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays
Tickets: $35 adults, $21 students
Information: 402-553-0800 or omahaplayhouse.com
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“After so long, it's as if we're one person.”
That's Sadie Delany, 103, talking about her sister, Bessie, 101, in the remarkable, standout production of “Having Our Say” that opened Friday at the Omaha Community Playhouse.
Sadie's right. The sisters finish each other's sentences and know what each other is thinking before anything is said at all. That's what comes from living your entire life together.
But it's not only the ties between these remarkable, real-life African-American women, pioneers for their gender and race, that makes the play soar. It's the ties, and talent, of Camille Metoyer Moten and Lanette Metoyer Moore, real-life sisters who play Bessie and Sadie with such skill and delight.
A Thursday preview audience laughed all night long, and teared up a time or two, at the sometimes spirited, sometimes tender, always articulate and involving interplay between feisty Bessie (Moten) and peace-loving Sadie (Moore) as they unfold the story of their lives.
And what lives. The play takes us back to their family roots in Florida and North Carolina with tales of slavery and interracial romance. Through their eyes, we relive the era of Jim Crow laws in the South, the jazz-age Harlem renaissance in New York City, the civil rights movement and so much more.
Along the way, black-and-white period photos and short movie clips flash across the back wall of the stage, bringing vivid reality to shared memory and amping up the show's emotional impact.
All the while, Sadie and Bessie, talking directly to the audience as if it were a third person in the room, are cooking a huge dinner of all their father's favorite dishes in memory of his birthday. On a working stove. Using a working sink.
Audience members won't be thinking about how hard it is to slice and dice and mix and measure, all the while remembering massive amounts of dialogue. But when there are only two characters in a two-hour play, that's a tall order. And though there were a couple of halting moments Thursday night, they could be easily written off to the worn synapses of a centenarian.
Metoyer and Moore are simply great in these roles, from vocal inflection and body language to movement and pacing. They're as effective at angry or dramatic moments as they are at tripping laughter with what they say, how they say it, and how they interact as only sisters can.
Watch for a moment in which Sadie, a self-described mama's girl, describes dealing with her mother's death. Or the time Bessie, innocently waiting in a North Carolina train station, almost gets herself lynched. Delight at the way their paths cross with Eleanor Roosevelt, Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, Ethel Waters, Booker T. Washington and Duke Ellington. And get their take on David Duke, Jimmy Carter, Dan Quayle and Clarence Thomas. Emily Mann's script is brilliant.
Director Susan Baer Collins has the pair naturally putter around Jim Othuse's set, which consists of a full furnished dining room, living room and working kitchen with only the projection screen as a back wall. The result is a one-two punch of fascinating, often hilarious, occasionally moving words with visually involving pictures that bring their story fully to life.
These may be the finest performances yet from Metoyer and Moore, accomplished actresses who have both already won the Playhouse's top acting honors. The play's messages, about education, self-reliance, social justice, moral fiber and backbone, are suitable for any age, race or gender to appreciate.
“Having Our Say” is sure to rank with the best comedies of the season.